In-house : Greener On The Other Side?

An increasingly attractive career choice, working In-house requires a set of skills and experience that is often in addition to those required in private practice.   Recent years have seen a growing number of In-house roles within the legal sector.   Today approximately 22% of lawyers are employed In-house (mostly in business or central/local government).

Why move to an In-house role?  For many the main attraction of In-house work is more predictable working hours, but there are also other hidden benefits – including not having to bill your time and the variety of work.

What are employers looking for? Working In-house requires a set of skills and experience in addition to those required by private practice.  Candidates for In-house roles need to demonstrate strong commercial acumen and business sense.  They need to be able to not only understand the business but be able to effectively communicate risk to a non-legal audience.      As such, experience in a particular sector or business-related qualifications will always give job candidates a competitive edge.

What is the job like day to day?  The variety of work that you will be engaged in will be broader than in private practice.    In private practice there is a race to specialise early on in a career.  With an In-house role you will take the opposite path.    The nature of your interactions will differ too.  The strictly correct legal answer in private practice quite often needs to be filtered through the sieve of considerations and the views of other stakeholders.  Be aware that an in-house lawyer will typically need to have wide-reaching knowledge and experience that covers a whole range of areas like employment, property, commercial and corporate law.

When is the best time to move In-house?  It is important not to move to an In-house role too early in your career.   Sticking with private practice provides the ideal environment to expand your range of skills and take up development opportunities.   You can gain considerable experience and expertise during the early years at Associate level.

What’s the pay like?  Regarding renumeration, it’s commonly perceived that salaries will be higher in private practice and that the highest quality lawyers remain in private practice where they carry out the most high-profile and interesting work.   In practice this may not be so clear-cut.  In-house corporate roles tend to pay in excess of salaries offered by large firms (for the same level of experience).  Also, In-house government roles tend to pay more than medium size firms.

One of the advantages of an In-house role is the lack of billing targets, meaning you can focus purely on the work. The further you move up the pecking order in private practice, the greater the expectation that you spend more time gaining clients. For some lawyers that is appealing, for others not so much.    Finally, if there is a particular sector that you are passionate about in private life, working in-house in that sector may be your “happy place”.